As people age, they often worry more about their health. This includes both physical and mental functioning, which can each be affected to varying degrees according to one’s age, medical history, and lifestyle choices. While most people experience some decline in memory and cognition as they age, others develop dementia or Alzheimer's disease and struggle more as a result. Though Alzheimer’s disease is common, there are still misconceptions about how it can develop and what it can be like to have it. What is Alzheimer's disease? This article outlines ten essential Alzheimer’s facts that can help you recognize and understand this disease more clearly.
1. Alzheimer's Disease Is Just One Cause Of Memory Decline
When experiencing significant memory declines later in life, many people may jump to conclusions, thinking that they have Alzheimer's disease. However, there are other disorders that can also cause problems with memory to be aware of. For example, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia are all other types of dementia associated with memory problems. Thyroid problems, low blood sugar, infection, and even depression can also cause memory problems that may remit with treatment.
2. The Number Of People With Alzheimer's Disease Is Increasing
A special report on the disease facts and figures published in 2020 reported that statistics indicate that an estimated 6 million Americans have this condition. At the current rates of diagnosis, it is believed that this number will continue to rise, likely reaching approximately 14 million Americans by the year 2050. Most people are diagnosed at age 65 and older. However, approximately 200,000 Americans develop early-onset Alzheimer's disease.
The condition itself does not directly cause death. However, related health problems often occur, which can lead to death. Additionally, declines in the ability to provide care to oneself independently also contribute to death rates, which increase each year. This, alongside other dementias, leads to future challenges for healthcare infrastructure.
Alzheimer's statistics also reveal that 16.1 million people in America help provide care to people with this condition or some other form of dementia. Often unpaid caregivers provided this work. In many cases, they are family or friends, who take on the task of unpaid care for their loved one. All that caregiving can add up. Across the nation, caregivers gave approximately 18.4 billion hours of care. If that care were paid for, the total payments would be approximately $232 billion dollars. In general, the treatment and care for Alzheimer’s are costly, and those costs continue to rise over time.
3. Alzheimer's Disease Affects More Than Memory
Alzheimer’s disease is perhaps most associated with memory problems. Indeed, declines in memory are one of the first symptoms to appear and one of the primary features of the disorder. However, there are other changes in cognitive functioning that also occur. People affected by this condition face persistent challenges. Someone with Alzheimer's may have difficulty focusing and become easily confused. They might become more easily frustrated, have mood swings, and even show other mental health symptoms like anxiety and depression. There also may be some physical problems such as loss of coordination.
4. Alzheimer's Disease Progresses Through Stages
Alzheimer's symptoms usually start mildly and progress over time to become increasingly severe, which is why the disease has been divided into stages. In the early stages, the most noticeable problem is often memory problems, such as forgetting information or losing items. As the decline continues, more cognitive problems appear. It may become increasingly difficult for the person to plan, organize, and remember important dates or information. Over time, activities such as talking and calculating solutions to math problems can become more difficult. Eventually, someone with Alzheimer's can lose the ability to care for themselves, and many are referred to long-term care facilities.
5. A Combination Of Factors Can Increase The Risk Of Alzheimer's
Doctors are not entirely sure about all the factors that might cause a person to develop Alzheimer's disease. The disorder seems to be the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Research has shown that when there is a family history of Alzheimer's, there is a greater likelihood of developing the condition. If families have had Alzheimer’s as older people, then your own risk increases. It seems that certain genetic mutations may cause this. Certain life events may also increase the risk.
Research shows that a head injury earlier in life is linked to an increased likelihood of developing Alzheimer's. Not only is heart disease the leading cause of death in the US but health conditions such as high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease are also linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's. People with these chronic conditions can have a lifetime risk of developing this disease as older adults. Caring for your heart health can be essential to health and wellness in old age.
6. Alzheimer's Is Due To Neuron Damage From Two Processes
Although the initial causes of Alzheimer's Disease are complex and unclear, researchers have learned about the neurological processes that malfunction and can lead to Alzheimer's symptoms. One such process is when twisted strands of the protein tau start to unravel. They form neurofibrillary tangles. Not only are these structures disruptive, but the tau being out of place means that nutrients cannot be properly transported to the nerve cells. Without those nutrients, the nerve cells eventually die.
Additionally, protein fragments called beta-amyloid start to build clusters called plaques between the nerve cells. The plaques block signaling between the brain's nerve cells, which means they cannot communicate.
7. Alzheimer's Disease Usually Starts In The Hippocampus
Research has found that the brain is comprised of many parts that each control various functions or contribute to different capabilities. The limbic system, which works with emotion, seems to also play a big role in memory. Even within this system, the hippocampus is the specific part of the brain that moves information into long-term memory. Research through brain scans shows that the damage associated with the tangles and plaques usually starts near the hippocampus and then spreads elsewhere throughout the brain. That is why the earliest symptom of Alzheimer’s tends to be memory loss.
8. Alzheimer's Disease Can Be Difficult To Diagnose
When dementia or Alzheimer's is suspected, a doctor will order many assessments and evaluations to determine the diagnosis. However, there is no definitive way to diagnose Alzheimer's Disease. Instead, doctors rule out other possible conditions, diagnosing Alzheimer’s only when no other condition could possibly be causing the symptoms. This allows the individual to start receiving treatment. After death, the diagnosis can be officially confirmed. This is done as part of an autopsy in which slices of the brain are examined under a microscope for the presence of tangles and plaques.
Do You Need Help Coping With An Alzheimer’s Diagnosis?
9. Alzheimer's Disease Can Be Treated But Cannot Be Cured
Alzheimer's is a progressive disorder that worsens over time and has no known cure. There is no way to slow the progression of the disease once it starts because the tangles and plaques continue to form. Science has not yet found a solution; however, different treatments can help slow the progression of symptoms. Various forms of medication act on the brain and its neurotransmitters, helping people maintain independence and quality of life. Always speak with a medical provider before taking a new medication.
Researchers continue to look for new treatments and medical breakthroughs. For example, research on statins and Alzheimer's has shown mixed findings. It is thought that these may be helpful because they reduce cardiovascular disease and indeed, they seem most helpful for vascular dementia. It is unclear whether this treatment will be consistently helpful for those with Alzheimer's. In some cases, it worsens confusion and cognitive problems, but scientists continue investigating the potential benefits. The Alzheimer’s Association is a nonprofit that leads the way in funding new research for possible treatments and even eventual prevention or cures for this disease.
10. Alzheimer's Disease May Be Preventable
How to prevent Alzheimer's? There is no guaranteed way to prevent Alzheimer's disease. However, there are ways to reduce the risk of developing the disorder. Research has shown that physical activity is helpful because it promotes blood flow and prevents other health conditions that could increase the risk of developing the disease. Eating a healthy, nutritious diet is similarly beneficial. Sleep is known to help promote and maintain cognitive functioning, including memory. Drinking in moderation and avoiding smoking are also recommended. Keeping the mind active, staying social, and taking care of one's mental health are also important steps. Finally, adequate medical care is essential.
Online Therapy With BetterHelp
Normal aging can be difficult to adjust to. Coping with the symptoms of severe memory loss or other significant changes can be even more challenging. Trained therapists can help those with Alzheimer's disease and their caregivers manage the physical, cognitive, psychological, and emotional changes that occur with the disorder. Suppose you are struggling with adjusting to age, dealing with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, or are in a dementia-care role. In that case, you can seek out therapy locally and online counseling through the BetterHelp platform.
Taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s may mean you must be with them often. This can make it difficult to care for yourself, including your mental health. Online therapy makes it more convenient to get the therapeutic support you need. You can connect through video calls, phone calls, or an in-app messaging feature all from the comfort of your home.
The Effectiveness Of Online Therapy
Many people use therapy to manage the grief, depression, and anxiety that can come along with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Often, family or other unpaid caregivers can also benefit from the support of counseling. One study assessed the effectiveness of a telehealth behavioral coaching intervention for caregivers of those with neurocognitive disorders, such as dementia. Researchers found that caregivers experienced lower depressive symptoms, less upset following disruptive behaviors, and more positive mood states overall. Caregivers also reported higher self-efficacy in their abilities to provide support.
What are the main facts about Alzheimer’s disease?
The main Alzheimer’s facts are that it is a progressive neurodegenerative disease leading to cognitive decline and eventually severe Alzheimer’s disease. It mostly affects older adults and is responsible for a majority of dementia cases.
What is the main cause of Alzheimer’s?
The underlying causes of Alzheimer’s are not fully understood. However, a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors are believed to contribute to the development of the disease.
What exactly happens in Alzheimer’s?
In Alzheimer’s, protein deposits accumulate in the brain, leading to cognitive impairment and damage to neural networks. Over time, this leads to mild cognitive impairment and eventually severe forms of dementia.
Who is Alzheimer’s most common in?
Alzheimer’s is most common in older adults, especially those over the age of 65. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia for Medicare beneficiaries. It’s worth noting that women are more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other dementias than men.
How is Alzheimer’s inherited?
Genetic factors can play a role, but having a family with Alzheimer’s does not guarantee you will get the disease. Various genes are being studied to understand their contribution. Alzheimer’s clinical trials are ongoing to understand the root causes of the disease.
How risky is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s presents a significant risk, especially to older adults. Its progressive nature affects daily life, making a person living with Alzheimer’s increasingly dependent on caregivers.
Why is Alzheimer’s harmful?
Alzheimer’s is harmful because it causes progressive cognitive loss, impeding a person's ability to perform basic tasks, make decisions, and maintain a healthy aging process.
How can you prevent Alzheimer’s disease?
While there is no surefire way to prevent Alzheimer’s, lifestyle changes like a balanced diet, regular exercise, and mental stimulation have been shown to delay the onset of cognitive impairment.
What 7 things trigger Alzheimer’s?
Although the exact triggers are not known, factors like age, genetics, head injuries, heart health, diet, lack of exercise, and sleep disorders are often linked with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
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